Every one of the 16 teams in the NBA playoffs have one goal in mind, but before squads can set their sights on the Larry O’Brien trophy, they have to win four of seven games in the first round.
The 2014 postseason is loaded with intriguing early matchups, including showdowns between the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers and Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets.
The NBA itself let fans know what the entire first round looks like:
Here is a glance at some of the key dates to keep in mind throughout the postseason:
- April 19: 2014 NBA playoffs begin
- May 5: conference semifinals begin (possible move up to May 3 or 4)
- May 20: conference finals begin (possible move up to May 18 or 19)
- June 5: The NBA Finals begin
Of particular interest to some fans are the overall odds to win the NBA title, which are surely impacted by the first-round matchups. Here is a look at the overall odds, via Vegas Insider, as of Wednesday, April 16:
|Odds to win NBA title|
|San Antonio Spurs||3-1|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||19-5|
|Los Angeles Clippers||10-1|
|Portland Trail Blazers||50-1|
|Golden State Warriors||60-1|
Now that we know what the entire first round looks like and the odds to win the championship, let’s dig into a couple of first-round predictions.
Brooklyn Nets Pull the “Upset”
As can be seen, the Brooklyn Nets have more favorable odds to win the title than their first opponent, the Toronto Raptors. However, if we are strictly going by the seeding, the Raptors are the No. 3 seed and have home-court advantage against Paul Pierce and company.
These two teams split the four regular-season matchups, but it is the Raptors who enter the playoffs with more momentum.
Toronto won nine of its last 12 games to clinch the No. 3 seed over the Chicago Bulls. The Nets on the other hand dropped four of their final five games and ultimately lost out to the Washington Wizards for the No. 5 seed.
It almost looked as if Brooklyn wanted no part of Chicago in the first round in its last two games. It looked listless in losses to the New York Knicks (without Carmelo Anthony) and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Despite that difference in momentum, the Nets will tap into their vast postseason experience advantage to knock off the Raptors.
Players like Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson and Pierce have been regulars in the playoffs for years, while Toronto’s main contributors have not. Garnett and Pierce won a championship together in Boston and didn’t come to Brooklyn to lose in the first round.
If the Nets do win, it could set up a second-round showdown with the Miami Heat.
That would be of particular interest because Brooklyn swept the regular-season showdowns with LeBron James and company. That’s not to suggest Miami would lose a seven-game series to Brooklyn, but it would provide a stiff test before a potential Eastern Conference finals series against the Indiana Pacers.
Prediction: Brooklyn in six
Memphis Grizzlies Test Oklahoma City
Kevin Durant and James have been back-and-forth all season for the MVP award, and it would only seem natural if the two superstars face off in the NBA finals.
However, Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder have to focus on the first round, where they will be tested by the Memphis Grizzlies. The Thunder won three of the four matchups in the regular season, but Memphis has had to play the last two months with a playoff-type urgency just to reach the postseason.
We've needed every game basically since February it seems like. We've played every game like a playoff game. It's been fun to be part of a group that comes in and stays focused and to get back in the playoffs. It's huge from where we started off this season.
The Grizzlies won their last five games to reach the postseason, and feature the third-best defense in the league in terms of points per game allowed. The underrated Conley is talented enough to hang with Russell Westbrook, and the physical nature of Memphis’ game will challenge Durant over the course of a long series.
The Thunder’s talent advantage will ultimately prevail, but it will not be easy.
Prediction: Oklahoma City in six
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